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Holistic Approaches to Depression: 5 Ways Yoga Helps

Holistic approaches to depression focus on all aspects of a person and, in this way, we can alleviate symptoms by practicing yoga for depression. If you’re struggling with depression, low mood, or low self-esteem, and you’re looking for alternative ways to feel better without medication, then you’ve come to the right place! Today, we’ll explore how and why yoga can be a tool for holistic approaches to depression.

What is Depression?

Depression is a common mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. While there are many treatments available for depression, including medication and therapy, some individuals seek holistic approaches to managing their symptoms.

Depression is classified as a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities that once were pleasurable. It can affect a person’s mood, thoughts, behaviour, and physical health. Depression can, therefore, also cause physical symptoms such as fatigue, difficulty sleeping or excessive sleeping, appetite changes, and aches and pains.

Recent research shows that depression might have evolutionary reasons and stem from inflammation in the body, often in relation to illness or fighting infections. Nowadays, the causes of inflammation can be much broader. Check out my article on Using an Anti-Inflammatory Diet to Help Depression to see how inflammation contributes to depression.

Holistic Approaches to Depression

Holistic approaches to depression take into account the whole person, including their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. These approaches aim to address the underlying causes of depression and provide a range of strategies to support the individual’s mental and physical health.

For a long time, the leading thought for the causes of depression considered only chemical imbalances in the brain. As a result depression was deemed ‘an illness of the mind’. Recent research shows, however, that depression – like many illnesses – is more complex and that multiple factors may be contributing to depression. Therefore, it only makes sense to use holistic approaches to depression, when it comes to treating the illness.

Image showing a stone pile, balanced, with the ocean in the background.
Using yoga as a holistic approach to alleviating depression

Yoga for Depression

As you may know, yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India and has been used for centuries to promote physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. The combinations of physical postures (asanas), breathing exercises (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) helps to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve mood. Here are some ways in which yoga can be used as a holistic approach to managing depression:

1. Reducing Stress

Stress is a significant contributor to depression in our society nowadays and a contributor of inflammation in the body. Yoga has been shown to be effective in reducing stress levels. The yoga postures (asanas) and conscious breathing (pranayama) promote relaxation, reduce muscle tension, and deepen the breath, all of which can help to reduce stress levels by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

2. Improving Mood

Yoga has been found to be effective in improving mood in people with depression. Studies have shown that yoga increases levels of the neurotransmitter GABA, which is associated with improved mood and reduced anxiety.

Generally speaking, all types of exercise can have mood boosting effects, due to lowering cortisol levels in the body, while releasing serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters in the brain that make us feel happy, however, people with depression tend to exhibit lower levels of these. Instead, people with depression may actually have higher cortisol levels that lead to increased stress and the exhibit of depressive symptoms.

Yoga as a gentle form of exercise can therefore aid in reducing cortisol levels in the body, while activating the release of dopamine and serotonin, which helps us feel more balanced and relaxed.

3. Boosting Self-Esteem

Low self-esteem is a common symptom of depression, and yoga can help to boost self-esteem. Practicing yoga can improve body awareness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion, which can all help to improve self-esteem.

On a more superficial level, yoga can give us great pleasure and confidence, when we find that our bodies can do postures or transitions that we did not think we were capable of. Through the practice of yoga, we also practice non-attachment to our ego. We learn, that we are not our thoughts and worries, and this is a process that can greatly improve our self-esteem.

4. Improving Sleep

Sleep disturbances are common in people with depression. Research has found that a lack of sleep can significantly worsen mental health issues for a number of reasons: brain fog, mood changes, increased stress. The relationship between depression and sleep is therefore tricky. On one hand, exhibiting symptoms of depression may cause us difficulty sleeping. On the other hand, not sleeping sufficiently can worsen the illness.

We, therefore, need to find a way to improve our sleep quality – and yoga can help with that! Yoga promotes relaxation and reduces stress, which can help to improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia. Try practicing yin yoga in the evenings, or practicing calming pranayama (breathing exercises), such as nadi shodana.

5. Promoting Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a state of awareness in which a person is fully present in the moment. By being present in the moment, we can learn to focus on one task at hand. By being fully present in the now, we can learn to release feelings of regret about things that have happened in the past, and we can learn to let go of the anxiety about possible, undefined situations in the future. It is the awareness of knowing that here and now lies our power.

Yoga promotes mindfulness by encouraging a focus on the present moment and on the breath. Moving through a yoga sequence with full concentration on the breath and the alignment in the poses, we become mindful – of our body, our emotions, our whole state of being. We can start detaching ourselves from negative thought patterns by being aware and mindful. In this way, mindfulness is an effective, holistic approach in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Black and white image showing a girl in a yoga pose, cross-legged seat.
Yoga promotes mindfulness and boosts self-esteem and can be a holistic approach to depression.

Holistic approaches to depression, such as yoga, can be an effective complement to other treatments in combating depression. By reducing stress, improving mood, boosting self-esteem, improving sleep, and promoting mindfulness, yoga can be a powerful tool in managing the symptoms of depression. If you are interested in using yoga to manage your depression, e-mail me at hello@findingsparkles.com and we’ll discuss what approach of yoga, breathwork, mindfulness practices, and nutrition can help you be your best sparkling self.

You got this,

keep sparkling ✨

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